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The old C.C.C. buildings from the 1930s are more than a little run down,

but they are what gives the place its tone and shape—at least, as I remember the Black Hills Playhouse when I was young.

A sort of summer stock theater, run out of the University of South Dakota’s theater department all the way across the state in Vermillion, the playhouse was established in 1946 when a drama professor named Warren M. Lee took over an abandoned C.C.C. camp in Custer State Park and started putting on plays for tourists and the handful of nearby residents.

My sisters and I spent the summer there, the year that I was ten, acting in such plays as Carousel and Dr. Lee’s own South Dakota melodrama, The Legend of Devil’s Gulch . A fun time, in memory, and enough to draw me back last night, driving up with my family from our summer stay in Hot Springs to see one of the performances. The seats are softer, and there’s air conditioning now, but the canteen looks much the same at intermission:

And in the backstage world of summer stock, there are some things that never change:

Is the captivation of such places only the spell of memory ? The eternal question of the memoirist: Did you have to have been there to want to go back?

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